THE KANDA BOOK FESTIVAL - from this foreigner's perspective
Elizabeth Heilman Brooke
I never cease to marvel at Japan's joyous appreciation for and celebration of each of the seasons. So, I was both impressed and amused to recently learn that even reading has a season in Japan. The falling of Tokyo's russet and burgundy and gingko gold leaves signals an autumnal season of reading pleasure.
To launch this time of words and pages and tomes, reading and rare book enthusiasts come from all over the world to attend The Kanda Book Festival, which takes place along Yasukuni-dori and Hakusan-dori October 28 through November 3.
This year (2005) marked the 46th year for the book festival, and 161 bookshops participated. New and old, discounted and expensive books are sold in outdoor stalls as well as in the numerous historic bookshops that line the streets of this Kanda neighborhood, fondly called Book Town.
Red and white paper lanterns festoon streetlights and create a festive atmosphere. A weekend parade with drums and high spirits announces an outdoor neighborhood party bringing together books, authors and the purveyors of books. This year famous writers, such as Kitakata Kenzo, were on hand for book signings.
As home to Meiji University, the streets of Jimbocho are peopled with students; their shoulders draped with backpacks, their destinations possibly a library, a coffee shop or one of the many bookshops eager to cater to even the most particular of readers.
Matsumura Shoten features international books in various languages. One might find The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh in English, or in French, Art Classics of Piero Della Francesca.
Nagashima Shoten (Surugadaishita shop) specializes in manga and pop culture collectibles.
The nine floors of Kanda Kosho Center offer modern Japanese literature, pre-Edo books on philosophy, education and language, audio books, movie magazines and posters, Noh plays, music and manga.
On its 7th floor there are posters of famous pin-up girls in bikinis, some selling for ￥31,500. Pop girl trading cards are ￥10,000. Rare pre-fame photos of Kamachi Sachiko or Sakai Izumi are available for ￥100,000.
Takayama Honten specializes in Noh books and memorabilia. There are Noh masks, picture books of Noh scenes, books of Noh songs, and even a 1944 edition of No LeNo, a French explanation of Noh by Noel Peri.
With its art deco windows and building dating from 1931, the Isseido Booksellers Shop is one of my favorite Jimbocho bookshops. I am always drawn to buildings that have been preserved and still speak of times past. It was funny to see a book on Jimmy Dean on the main floor, but was even more fascinating to climb to the second floor to see The Art of Heraldry, a massive white and gold edition, or a palm-size edition of The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab, part of a Japanese fairy tale series in English.
Loco Shobo, on the 4th floor of the Kurata Building, only sells books that can fit in the palm of one's hand, teeny, tiny books, or mamebon, "bean" books in Japanese.
Books, whose pages hold innovation and fantasy, dreams and history, songs and strokes of color and grace, fine papers, editions minute and grand, The Kanda Book Festival celebrates them all.
Elizabeth Heilman Brooke is an American writer and editor, based in Tokyo for the past four years.